Adult Recess

Schoolyard sports are making a comeback among adults eager to play.

Illustration by Michael Witte

Remember the sports we loved growing up, back when getting a game together was as simple as calling a few friends or heading over to the rec center? Whether it was basement ping-pong, schoolyard dodgeball, backyard badminton, or a quick rock scramble at a local park, these activities were how we formed relationships and memories to last a lifetime. 

Many of those sports are making a comeback for adults, who are nostalgic for fun and spontaneous recreation after sitting behind computer screens much of the day. Centers dedicated to activities from our youth have popped up in business and industrial parks across the state, where thousands of Virginians go to wedge a little good-natured athletic competition and fitness into their workdays and weekends. 

James Salgado, co-owner of Hampton Roads-based Backyard Sports Club, says he missed playing sports after he graduated from Virginia Tech and moved to Alexandria more than 10 years ago. “It’s hard to meet new people once you leave school and are out in the world, and I wanted to do something other than sit in a bar and just talk about work,” he says. A friend pointed Salgado to a kickball team, and there was no looking back.

In 2011, Salgado teamed up with two kickball buddies, siblings Charm and Jon Reyes, to establish the Backyard Sports Club, which organizes various social sports leagues in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Hampton. All three owners have full-time jobs, but devote their free time to managing the sports they still love to play. “We all met playing kickball, and we all met our spouses/significant others playing club sports,” says Salgado. “Finding a sport or league is a great way to stay fit, make friends, and have fun.”

Check out these new twists on some old favorites.

Pickleball

Pickleball Club of Chesterfield County

An affordable, easy-to-learn game that combines elements of ping-pong, badminton, and tennis, pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. According to the USA Pickleball Associationand the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, there are more than 3.3 million players and more than 30,000 badminton-size pickleball courts in the United States alone.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Three dads—Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum—wanted to keep their kids occupied, so they put them on an old badminton court with some plastic wiffle balls and homemade oversize ping-pong paddles. The kids couldn’t get enough, and the adults were soon addicted as well. Why the name pickleball? According to McCallum, the Pritchards’ dog, Pickles, would chase the ball and run off with it; thus they had to go get “Pickles’ ball.”

Linda Scott, president of the Pickleball Club of Chesterfield County, near Richmond, says she and her husband, Dave, were vacationing in Florida when she heard a repetitive tap, tap, tap on the courts outside of her hotel room—her first exposure to pickleball. The couple was soon playing in tournaments all over the East Coast, and then decided they needed a court in Virginia. In June 2010 the Scotts put tape down to form a pickleball court on a tennis surface in Rockwood Park in Chesterfield, what is now officially named the Scott Pickleball Center—the first dedicated pickleball court in Virginia. “With 1,300 members, our club is by far the biggest in Virginia,” says Scott, noting that Chesterfield County has 26 outdoor dedicated courts that stay busy year-round. “There aren’t enough courts to keep up with demand,” says Scott.

Pickleballerz

Pickleball is popular in Northern Virginia, where players often resort to altering local tennis courts for a game. Floriana Maslyn, a teacher for Loudoun County Public Schools, says she prefers pickleball to tennis, because it’s easy on her previously injured wrist. Maslyn meets weekly with Potomac Falls friends Sirley Dasilva and Lance and Jerusa Geppert to play on neighborhood tennis courts, which they mark with chalk. “Our community association really needs to pay attention to how many of us are begging for dedicated courts,” says Maslyn.

This fall, entrepreneurs Greg and Beverly Raelson opened Pickleballerz in Chantilly, the first and only dedicated indoor pickleball facility in the mid-Atlantic. The 20,000-square-foot facility offers six cushioned and color-blocked courts, 18-foot ceilings, a social café, party rooms, and a pro shop. “We noticed people taping off basketball and tennis courts to play this game, so we wanted to give players a real home that is 100 percent devoted to pickleball,” says Beverly. ChesterfieldPickleball.clubPickleballerzUSA.com

Dodgeball

Dodgeball at Backyard Sports Club.

Depending on your social standing in school, you might have mixed feelings and memories about dodgeball, but get ready to duck, dodge, dip, and dive, because that ball is coming right at you. The game involves two teams on opposite sides of an enclosed court who sprint to the centerline to retrieve balls and throw them at each other. If you’re hit, you’re out, but if you can catch the ball, your opponent is eliminated instead. 

Competitive dodgeball leagues exist across Virginia, although some closed last year due to COVID concerns. Social leagues are active in Richmond via the River City Sports and Social Club at the Sports Center of Richmond (SCOR), with three co-ed divisions: social, super social, and extremely social. Post-game happy hours only add to the fun. In the Virginia Beach/Norfolk/Hampton Roads area, Backyard Sports Club has you covered, also with three divisions: competitive, social, and very social. Last year, Backyard Sports had 30 teams and more than 450 members, and the owners expect the numbers to increase now that they’ve moved games to the new Virginia Beach Sports Center, which can accommodate 24 courts. After-game socializing takes place at local pubs and restaurants. Worried about injury? The league uses foam rather than rubber balls. RiverCitySSC.comBackyardSportsClub.com

Badminton

“A lot of Americans still think of badminton as only a yard sport, but it’s the second most played sport in the world, and it’s also considered the fastest,” says Afshin Royal, who teaches badminton as a faculty member at George Mason University in Fairfax and is also owner and head coach of Royal Badminton Academy in Ashburn. 

Northern Virginia Badminton Academy

Royal guides his players through classes, clinics, and tournaments at the Northern Virginia Badminton Academy (NVBA) in Ashburn, the largest dedicated badminton academy in the region. NVBA director Shubra Chowdhury says the nine-court facility stays busy seven days a week and caters to more than 3,000 members, who come from as far as Richmond and Delaware for both drop-in and structured play. Players range anywhere from absolute beginner to competitive.

According to Royal, most players are surprised at how intense the game can get. “A badminton player can cover twice the distance as a tennis player in the same duration of play,” says Royal. “It requires stamina, speed, power, agility, and flexibility.” In the United States, the sport is governed by USA Badminton (USAB), which oversees sanctioned tournaments nationwide.

The goal in badminton is to use your racket to hit the shuttlecock (sometimes called a birdie) over the net so it lands inside your opponent’s court, which ends the rally. Win enough rallies, and you win a match. True badminton is always an indoor sport because wind can change the speed of the shuttlecock, which in Olympic-level play can reach more than 400 kilometers per hour. Badminton is offered in school gyms and county recreation centers across Virginia, but many were temporarily suspended last year due to COVID-19. BadmintonRoyal.comNoVaBadmintonAcademy.com

Indoor Rock Climbing

Sportrock Climbing Centers

Sean Taft-Morales, director of the Sportrock Climbing Centers in Alexandria, became hooked on rock climbing at a Sportrock birthday party 21 years ago, when he was just 12. “Anyone can do this sport—young, old, tall, short, women, men,” says Taft-Morales. “It’s a full-body workout that presents totally individualized challenges, because, based on flexibility and strength, there are multiple ways to solve the same problem.”

Sportrock’s 60-foot climbing walls are the tallest in the mid-Atlantic and second tallest in the country. The 35,000-square-foot Alexandria location offers climbing walls as short as 20 feet, plus 150 rope routes and more than 125 boulder problems (no rope or harness, close to the padded ground). Sportrock has a second facility in Sterling.

Indoor rock-climbing facilities can be found across Virginia. “It’s a very socially welcoming community,” says Taft-Morales. “It’s a great way to build confidence while getting fit, and I’ve known many people who met their spouses climbing.” Sportrock and other climbing facilities offer both casual and competitive climbing, and even guided social climbing trips to other countries. Advanced and competitive climbers may become interested in USA Climbing, the governing body for competition climbing in the United States. SportRock.comIndoorClimbing.com/Virginia.html 


Go Play!

Boredom is not an option when there are so many fun sports to try while getting fit and staying social. This is just a sample of the options across the Commonwealth. 

Archery

Bull Run Public Shooting Center, Centreville

Bull Run Public Shooting Center

The center offers a 20-yard indoor target range with 18 shooting lanes. You must supply your own archery equipment. Archery instruction is available. NoVaParks.com

Northern Virginia Archers Club, Fairfax Station

The largest archery club in Virginia, with more than 320 members, Northern Virginia Archers Club offers two ranges for year-round shooting on its 170-acre property, as well as competitions and an Archery Academy. NoVaArchers.org

Disc Golf

Colonial Disc Golf Club, Newport News Park, New Quarter Park, Waller Mill Park, and Hampton 9 Disc Golf Course

Disc golf is played alone or in groups, year-round, requires little equipment, and is very affordable. Colonial Disc Golf Club president Tim Dempsey says interest in the sport only increased during COVID-19. The game is similar to traditional golf, but instead of using a club to aim a ball toward hole in the ground, a player spins a hand disc toward a chain basket that is suspended from a pole. Colonial Disc Golf Club, an affiliate club member of the Professional Disc Golf Association, holds tournaments throughout the year, including charitable events, weekly league play, and PDGA sanctioned tournaments. CDG.club

Fencing

Nova Fencing and Archery Club, Falls Church

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Nova Fencing and Archery Club

Try two sports at one club! The Nova Fencing and Archery Club features 15 grounded fencing strips and a permanent archery range. It offers adult beginner, recreational, and competitive skills classes and competitions in both sports. NoVaFencingclub.com

Ice Hockey

Ice hockey is fast and fun, but not inexpensive. Be prepared to provide your own complete equipment, including helmet, pads, gloves, pants, socks, guards, skates, and stick.

Chilled Ponds Ice Sports Complex, Chesapeake

Hampton Roads’ 90,000-square-foot facility has two NHL skating rinks and is the official practice facility for the Norfolk Admirals. The adult league offers four levels of play for year-round hockey, as well as a skills program. ChilledPonds.com

The St. James, Springfield

The St. James hosts both men’s and women’s leagues in its two NHL-size rinks. The Vim & Victor café offers food, drinks, and socialization. TheStJames.com

Ion International Training Center, Leesburg

You’ll find two NHL-size rinks and year-round, 20-game seasons at Ion. Men’s, women’s, and coed teams of all skill levels are welcome. Lu’s Bar & Grill offers happy hour specials. IonITC.com

Ultimate Archery Dodgeball

Ultimate Archery Virginia, Sterling

Virginia’s only archery dodgeball arena. Players race to eliminate opponents with foam-tipped arrows. Great for parties, team building. Reservations recommended via website, or call. Ultimate-Archery.com

Volleyball 

Richmond Volleyball Club, Henrico and North Chesterfield

Adult programs for all skill levels, including leagues, skills clinics, tournaments, and sand volleyball. Never played? Join the Starter League. No team? The Drop-In League offers a fun, social environment. Feeling competitive? The Indoor Leagues boast competitive 10-week seasons, four times a year. RVC.net/Adult-Volleyball-Programs 


This article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue.

Jill Devine
I’m a Northern Virginia-based freelance writer specializing in human interest stories and business profiles.
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